DOE Gainful Employment Rule Affects For-Profit Law Schools

Federal district courts in New York and the District of Columbia have rejected challenges to the Department of Education’s “gainful employment rule”. A recent story in The American Lawyer, “New Rule Spells Trouble for For-Profit Law Schools”, explains how the DOE gainful employment rule will likely affect for-profit law schools. The gainful employment rule, which is based on graduates’ annual incomes and their discretionary incomes, requires a for-profit school’s graduates to have debt payments that are 8% or less of their annual incomes, or 20% or less of their discretionary incomes. A school fails the test if student debt payments exceed 12% of annual incomes or 30% of discretionary incomes. A school is considered “in the zone” if loan payments of graduates are greater than or equal to 12% of their annual incomes, or payments are greater than 10% but less than or equal to 30% of discretionary incomes. A for-profit school becomes ineligible for federal loans if it fails both the annual income and discretionary income tests in any two of three years, or if it fails both tests or is in the zone for four years. The story also explains that graduates’ enrollment in income-based repayment programs is not considered in the government’s application of the new rule. The American Lawyer story contains tables that project how the rule could be applied based on available debt, income, and employment information for graduates at the six for-profit law schools. The DOE gainful employment rule goes into effect July 1, 2015.

Law School Curriculum Review & Reform: Lessons Learned

In 2012, my dean asked me to chair a review our curriculum at the University of Tennessee College of Law. He asked our committee to consider the current three-year curriculum in light of our learning outcomes. It sounded like an overwhelming job.

During the first year of our curriculum review, I remember reading the book Reforming Legal Education: Law Schools at the Crossroads. Michael Hunter Schwartz and Jeremiah Ho wrote a great chapter titled Curriculum Reforms at Washburn University School of Law.

I would describe Schwartz and Ho’s chapter in two ways: (1) full of practical suggestions about the process for reviewing curriculum and considering reform; and (2) terrifying.

I stole many of the practical, process-related suggestions from their chapter. We had a committee retreat where we spent an uninterrupted day discussing the curriculum. Committee members went door-to-door and talked to each faculty member about the curriculum and possible changes. The committee developed two proposals for curriculum reform and discussed these proposals with the full faculty. I am sure there are other ideas we borrowed from Schwartz and Ho.

The terrifying part of Schwartz and Ho’s chapter was this line: “[O]ne might conclude that, after nearly three years of work, Washburn’s curriculum reform efforts have been unsuccessful.”

Three years? We may do this for three years and feel it wasn’t a success?

Of course, Schwartz and Ho go on to explain that there were successes in the three-year process. (The Washburn faculty reached a consensus on key issues and made progress toward some important goals detailed in the chapter). But it was daunting for me to think that the process would be difficult and might take three years.

In 2015, the University of Tennessee College of Law faculty adopted a package of significant changes to the 1L curriculum. While the substance of those changes is important, I think it is also important to contribute to Schwartz and Ho’s discussion about the process. So here are a few of the lessons I learned about the process of curriculum review and reform over the past three years.

1) Three Years is a Good Start. When we started, three years sounded like a long time to work on a curriculum review. I now know that three years of curriculum review passes in the blink of an eye. We needed that much time to understand our curriculum, talk to faculty, alumni and students, research what was happening elsewhere, create proposals for change, seek more input, and generate new proposals.

2) Less is More. Our committee accomplished something in three years because we narrowed the focus. Even though our original committee charge was to review the entire curriculum, we ended up focusing on the first year curriculum. That was a more manageable project. Also related to “less is more,” after two years we realized the committee was spread too thin. Our dean originally gave the curriculum review charge to the Academic Standards & Curriculum Committee. For two years that committee juggled the curriculum review and the regular business of Academic Standards. In the third year, our dean created a separate task force to focus solely on the curriculum review. That change made us much more efficient in year three and allowed us to reach a faculty vote on a package of proposals.

3) Seek Input from Faculty, Alumni, and Students Multiple Times, in Multiple Settings. Throughout the three years of our curriculum review, we talked to faculty, alumni, and students. When we met with alumni and students, we gave them the chance to address the room, answer questions anonymously (with clickers), and respond in writing to questions. We often continued these discussions on the phone, by email, and in person. We were able to compile all of this input and share it with the faculty. The committee spent even more time gathering ideas from the faculty in one-on-one meetings, in multiple forums, in small group sessions, and in many informal conversations over the course of three years. Seeking input in all of these settings helped us learn from all of our stakeholders and resulted in a variety of suggestions.

4) Compromise Can Lead to Something Better. Near the end of our second year of the curriculum review, the committee presented the faculty with two packages of possible reforms to the 1L curriculum. Discussing and debating the merits of these proposals helped the committee see potential problems we had missed and opportunities for meaningful change. With that information, we met with small groups of faculty to generate ideas about new classes and other innovations. In these meetings, members of the faculty often suggested they wanted to take the lead in making a change or teaching something new. As the third year came to a close, the faculty approved a package of 1L curriculum changes that was substantially better than what the committee had suggested at the end of year two.

5) Curriculum Review “Success.” Three years ago, it was unnerving to read that Schwartz and Ho thought we might not find curriculum reform “success” in three years. But I now know that is a good thing. Curriculum review and reform does not have to be perfect, because we are never done. Curriculum review should be an ongoing process. This allows us to identify what is working and determine what we will do next as we prepare students for practice.

Lawyers as Leaders

Leadership courses can prepare law students for the leadership roles they will assume as they serve their clients, law offices, and communities.

The University of Tennessee College of Law’s Institute for Professional Leadership offers courses and programming aimed at developing students’ leadership skills and professional values. Doug Blaze directs Tennessee’s program and has co-taught the course “Lawyers as Leaders” for several years. The course integrates readings on leadership, class discussions, and guest appearances by lawyers from various practices. Blaze says that students have described the course as “one of the most meaningful and valuable” courses that they took in law school.

Stanford Law School’s Deborah Rhode wrote the book Lawyers as Leaders and teaches a course titled “Law, Leadership, and Social Change.” Stanford’s course addresses the responsibilities and challenges of leaders and considers topics including: leadership styles, organizational dynamics, conflict management, innovation, diversity, and ethical responsibilities.

At Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, the Program on Law and Leadership consists of seven initiatives that “make leadership an integral part of the law school experience.” These initiatives include workshops, a speaker series, a dean’s roundtable, collaboration and partnerships, scholarships, a conversation series, and various courses. Ohio State’s “Lawyers as Leaders” class “is designed to help students understand the hallmarks of skillful leadership and management.” The course combines theory, case studies, and simulations.

Other schools with notable leadership programs and courses include Columbia Law School, Elon University School of Law, and University of Minnesota Law School.

These programs recognize that all lawyers need to be prepared for the leadership roles they will inevitably play in their personal and professional lives. Tennessee’s Doug Blaze says, “We want to prepare lawyers who will make a positive difference in the profession and in their communities.”

Law Students and Mindfulness Training

The Wall Street Journal recently featured a story on the growing movement among law schools to provide “mindfulness” training for students. The article describes mindfulness as “[a] Zen-inspired blend of meditation, breathing exercises and focus techniques.”

As noted in the WSJ article, University of Miami School of Law is one of approximately two dozen schools offering mindfulness classes. According to its course catalog, Miami’s course is titled Mindfulness in Law: Cultivating Tools for Effective Practice. The course description notes that two local bar associations have formed the “Mindfulness in Law Joint Task Force” to explore mindfulness in practice. In the course, students are introduced to mindfulness “as a collection of tools of awareness that can enrich one’s skill set in relationship to the stimulating and challenging aspects of legal practice.” The full course description can be accessed here.

The WSJ story is available here.

Why More States Should Not Jump on the Uniform Bar Exam Bandwagon

In May, New York became the 16th state—and by far the most prominent—to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam, the standardized licensing test for lawyers created and promoted by the National Conference of Bar Examiners..

With such an influential state on board, the UBE is now all the rage. New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman proclaimed in his announcement of the Court’s decision that it “will reverberate among the other states,” ultimately leading to adoption  of the UBE throughout the country. The president of the Florida Bar responded to the decision by predicting that the northeastern states will soon follow New York’s lead and also acknowledging that Florida will give accelerated consideration to the UBE. And UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky argued in an L.A. Times op-ed that California should join New York in adopting the UBE.

Before other states react to the reverberations by crowning the UBE as the predominant or sole bar exam in the nation, the entire uniform exam initiative merits closer scrutiny. To be sure, adoption of the UBE throughout the country would make law licenses much more portable for beginning lawyers recently out of law school. That is a worthy goal, but the UBE is a dubious and potentially damaging means for achieving the desirable end of greater interstate license portability, especially because there is a different and more benign way to achieve that end.

A comprehensive consideration of the UBE suggests to me five reasons why additional states should step back from the precipice and be very cautious about joining the UBE bandwagon.

I discuss my five reasons in greater length here and, without annotations, here. In sum, they are as follows:

  1. The UBE perpetuates a flawed bar exam and is fundamentally inconsistent with recent trends in legal education and the legal profession
  2. The UBE would represent a regressive change to the current bar exam in several state
  3. The advantage of having the National Conference set a singular scoring methodology for all bar exams is overstated
  4. National implementation of the UBE would decrease the chance of meaningful bar exam reform by taking power away from states and giving it to the National Conference
  5. There is another means for achieving license portability that has far fewer drawbacks than the UBE

The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is administered as roughly half of the bar exam in 49 states and is a very reliable test from a psychometric perspective. Why not allow applicants who achieve a passing score on the MBE on any jurisdiction’s bar exam to apply for admission to any other state without the necessity of taking the bar exam again? Minnesota, North Dakota, and the District of Columbia already permit this, and other states need only follow their example.

A state adopting this approach in lieu of the UBE would be giving full faith and credit to whatever the written portion of the exam is in the original jurisdiction instead of forcing applicants to take its written portion. Since most states scale the scores from their written tests to the MBE, the policy is psychometrically sound. In fact, in many cases, the written tests of the two states at issue would be very similar, and the only variable would be awareness of local law, which could be covered through a CLE program.

Instead of putting its energies into national adoption of the UBE, which would decrease the quality of the bar exam in many states and drastically reduce state autonomy and flexibility, the National Conference could simply push for more states to adopt the policy already maintained by Minnesota, North Dakota, and D.C. We already have a uniform bar exam, and the National Conference already has enough power.

(Some of my article expands on the astute observations made by Professor Dennis Honabach in a piece he wrote in the ABA journal Professional Lawyer last year. ABA members can retrieve full text here, or on Westlaw, it’s at 22 No. 2 Prof. Law. 43.)

NYT OP ED – Putting Lawyers where they are needed

In today’s New York Times, THERESA AMATO makes recommendations for addressing the justice-lawyer gap — that frustrating current reality in which United States citizens have tremendous legal needs but no lawyer to help while, at the same time,  American law schools graduate a supply of lawyers who need jobs and need to pay their school debt.

You can read her ideas here.

Experiential Learning in Law

Professor Brian Sites, Coordinator of Experiential Learning at Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida, composed a fluid list of experiential learning resources that may be added to and shared among the legal community.

The resources are grouped by, among other methods, course area (i.e. Contracts,  Torts, IP, Family Law, etc.).  In the list, you will find books that are simulation-based, experiential supplements, law review articles on exercises in that area, websites that have exercises in that area, and exercise ideas.

Professor Sites plans to expand the list as he finds more resources and welcomes emails suggesting additional materials and newly-created exercise ideas.

The link to the resource list and Professor Sites’ contact information may be found below:

https://goo.gl/59KlUP

Professor Brian Sites

Assistant Professor of Law, Coordinator of Experiential Learning

Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law

Phone: (321) 206-5685

Email: BSites@barry.edu

SSRN Author page: http://ssrn.com/author=1490216

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